Top first timer tips for visiting India

Don’t try to cram too much in. India is a huge country – of 28 states – one of which, Karnataka, is larger than the whole of Greece. It is impossible to cover everything in one trip.

Choose the time of year carefully. Some places in India are very hot in their summer. Sightseeing is difficult under these conditions; try to visit in the cooler months. The monsoons hit the country at different times, depending on the location. You do not necessarily need to avoid visiting then – it depends what you are planning to do. Hotel rates may well be lower in this ‘off’ season.

Get your travel visa in plenty of time.

Go with an open mind. Yes, there is dirt, squalor, and poverty but India is also hugely exciting and vibrant. There are said to be over 10,000 dollar millionaires in Bangalore, one of India’s fastest growing cities.

The culture is different – learn to respect it. Many Indians worship a number of gods yet some are Christian. Others might be Muslim and there will be followers of Buddha too. Generally, Indians dress conservatively.

Most Indians have an admirable work ethic. Nearly everyone is up to something to try to make some money; there are no State handouts.

Officialdom can be tiresome; there is lots of red tape and too many ‘jobsworths’. There is also still a problem with corruption. It’s best to accept it and shrug your shoulders.

The food is wonderful. You will find a huge variety– from street stalls selling Indian food – each region having its own specialities – to top restaurants, often in a five star hotel – producing world class gourmet food representing cuisines from all over the world.

Don’t even think of driving yourself. It is very cheap to hire a driver with car and car hire is just not the done thing. Avoid public buses – they are quite often not roadworthy, crowded and not air-conditioned.

In many cities, the pavements are often broken or incomplete so walking around may be difficult. Autorickshaws (tuk tuks) are everywhere. Sort out the fare before you get in.

Don’t listen to Indians who tell you somewhere is ‘not far’. They think nothing of a ten-hour trip each way over a weekend.

India has something for everyone: luxury train tours; visits to the Golden Triangle – Taj Mahal, Agra and Jaipur; bird watching safaris and Kerala house boat tours on the backwaters. There are beach holidays in Chennai and Goa; city visits to Delhi, Mumbai, Pondicherry and Hyderabad and tiger spotting in Uttarakhand. Consider luxury spa holidays in former royal palaces; silent retreats or Ashram trips or visits to tea or coffee plantations… and the list of ideas goes on.

Be prepared to be shocked, fascinated and bewitched. India is not a place you visit just once.